Struggling Blackhawks have several problems to address

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86) celebrates after scoring past Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen (32) in overtime on Oct. 15 in Newark, N.J.

    New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86) celebrates after scoring past Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen (32) in overtime on Oct. 15 in Newark, N.J. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/23/2021 5:35 PM

So what is wrong with the Blackhawks?

That's the $64,000 question because this team -- one most believed would at least challenge for a playoff berth -- is still looking for its first victory after 5 losses.

 

A quick rundown of the ugly numbers before we get to the main issues:

• The Hawks have not led all season, a 300-minute, 57-second streak that crushes the previous franchise record (226:06) set just last year.

• Opponents are outscoring the Hawks 21-9 overall and 17-3 at even strength.

• Only Montreal (0-5-0) and Arizona (0-3-1) have a worse goal differential.

• The Hawks' high-danger goals for per 60 minutes is 0.5 (third worst) while their high-danger goals against is 2.27 (fourth worst). This means the Hawks are not capitalizing on their Grade A chances, while their opponents are coming through.

"I'm probably the main culprit for that," Patrick Kane said after Thursday's 4-1 loss to Vancouver. "It comes down to bearing down at certain parts of the game."

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Here are my thoughts on why the Hawks are 0-4-1 heading into Sunday:

Sloppy passing

The Hawks have gone from one of the best passing teams in the league under Joel Quenneville to one of the worst. Remember those gorgeous stretch passes from Duncan Keith to Patrick Kane? Or from Brent Seabrook to Marian Hossa?

Gone.

Or how about seamlessly advancing the puck from one zone to the next? Click, clack, click.

Scoring chance. Goal. It's a rare sight indeed.

Even at practice Saturday -- when the Hawks were running a simple drill with no defenders present -- two passes completely missed their target.

Is this a talent issue? A lack of reps with new teammates? Coaches not holding players accountable? All of the above?

Tough to say, but the best teams work as one to frustrate and flummox opponents.

Struggles in net

Marc-Andre Fleury looks nothing like a Vezina-winning goaltender thus far as he sports a save percentage of .840 and a goals-against average of 5.63. Some of that stems from the defense in front of him, but he's given up a few soft goals and also handed one to Pittsburgh last week.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kevin Lankinen (.884, 2.91) has been a bit better, but both netminders need to improve.

Starts at the top

The lack of production from the Hawks' best players is the biggest reason they haven't won.

Jonathan Toews has no points through five games. Patrick Kane has 5 points, but only 1 at even strength. Alex DeBrincat has no points at even strength. Tyler Johnson has just 2 assists.

A slow start from Toews was probably expected, but he needs to get going because teams obviously need their top-six centers to produce.

Line blending

Coaches almost always change the forward lines when things aren't going well and that's what Jeremy Colliton has done early on with the Hawks. But how much is too much when you are dealing with so much roster turnover?

"We gave some of those lines a pretty good run in camp and it looked like we maybe we had something," Colliton said after practice Saturday. "But when the season started we didn't continue that momentum. We gave it couple games, but ultimately when you're searching for a spark, the lines are one way to do it."

Finding the right combinations, making proper in-game adjustments and exploiting matchups are what separates the best coaches from the average ones.

Because of a lack of size, some scratched their heads when Colliton put the 5-foot-9 Patrick Kane, 5-foot-7 Alex DeBrincat and 5-foot-8 Tyler Johnson together at the start of camp. They are no longer a unit.

Against Vancouver, Colliton placed Jujhar Khaira, a hard-to-play against grinder, on a line with Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kubalik. That didn't pan out either.

Mike Hardman was called up from Rockford after three games. Dylan Strome sat out the first four contests, then played against the Canucks. Ryan Carpenter sat out three straight games.

It feels like the forwards need some time to gel so they can learn each other's tendencies.

From there, comes trust. And scoring chances. And goals.

And ideally victories.

Stick taps

Focusing on the Hawks' woes is certainly the easy thing to do, but it's important to point out that they have played better in the last two games. Unfortunately for them, Isles goalie Ilya Sorokin played magnificently during a 39-save performance, and Vancouver did a fantastic job breaking up plays at the last second. The Canucks also deserve credit for blocking 18 shots, a few of which had to hurt.

Next up

The Hawks' first victory should come against Detroit on Sunday, especially considering the Red Wings will be on the second half of a back-to-back. After that the Hawks host Toronto before traveling to Carolina and St. Louis. Those three teams were a combined 8-2-1 heading into Saturday.

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